After producing over 50 albums for other artists in Puerto Rico, Colombia and the U.S., participating as pianist-arranger in more than 100 recordings and writing music for feature films, theater and television, as well as jingles and video games, Israel Tanenbaum is stepping out with something more profoundly personal on Impressions.
“I’ve dedicated my entire professional life to writing for others and helping others become who they are or reach whatever it is that they’ve managed to reach,” said the Bronx-born, Puerto Rican bred musician who spent ten productive years in Colombia as a producer-composer-arranger-player for Orquesta Guayacán, Checo Acosta and Alfredo De La Fé, among many others. “I’ve produced so much music for so many artists and that’s been fulfilling to me. And now at this stage of the game, I’ve decided, ‘It’s about time you do something for yourself.’”
Leading a talented crew of players who hail from Cuba, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and New York City, Tanenbaum creates irresistible mambos, danzones and descargas that showcase his refined arrangements and typically uncommon choices while also revisiting his musical roots and rekindling some nostalgic memories along the way. “I’ve got all this stuff bottled up inside me,” said Tanenbaum, who has worked with such renowned salsa and Latin jazz artists as Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez, Juancito Torres, Marvin Santiago, Dave Valentín and Alfredo De La Fé and also played in popular groups like Batacumbele, Zaperoko, and Roberto Roena’s Apollo Sound, where he served as musical director for two years. “I know that one album isn’t going to resolve everything but I would eventually like to put everything out there.” Impressions is a big first step.
Making up the core of The Latinbaum Jazz Ensemble are first-call NYC bassist John Benítez, who hails from Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico; Brooklyn-born conguero Richie Flores, who was raised in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico and played alongside Tanenbaum in Grupo Batacumbele and Apollo Sound; timbales player Tito De Gracia from Villa Palmeras, Santurce, Puerto Rico; percussionist Roberto Quintero from Caracas, Venezuela; in-demand drummer Tony Escapa from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Bronx-raised drummer Francis Benítez (bassist John’s son). Tanenbaum’s inventive arrangements are enhanced by the use of vibraphones (Daniel Neville, Christos Rafalides), flutes (Oriente López, Andrea Brachfeld), trumpets (Jonathan Powell, Orlando “Batanga” Barrera), trombones (Ángel Subero, Willie Alvarez, Xito Lovell, Edilberto Liévano); and saxophones (Felipe Lamoglia and Julio Flores).
Impressions kicks off with the alluring guaracha Strange Destiny punctuated by tight, brisk horn arrangements and incorporating a wordless vocal choir of Diana Serna, Gustavo Rodriguez and Daniel Silva. Julio Flores turns in two outstanding sax solos here — one on soprano over the pianist’s sparse comping, the other a burning alto solo over the churning montuno section, followed in succession by heated solos from trombonist Liévano and trumpeter Barrera. “This is a Latin jazz version of a ballad which I composed when my father passed away called Let Me Go,” recalled Tanenbaum. “That was a liberating tune for me. My dad was a huge fan of Latin music and of my stuff, too, which was really nice. And so I felt that this piece was a fitting way to honor him.”
Hot Bridge, a persuasive salsa groover with an infectious percussive undercurrent, is augmented by some intricate unisons from the horns (trumpeter Powell, tenor saxophonist Lamoglia, trombonist Subero) alongside vibraphonist Rafalides and flutist López. Tanenbaum offers both a sparkling piano solo and a scintillating synth solo on this invigorating number while Subero adds an inspired solo of his own on trombone. Tanenbaum acknowledged the subliminal influence of salsa icons Eddie Palmieri and Tito Puente on this lively number. “I fell in love with Palmieri’s La Perfecta sound when I was a kid,” he recalled. “I thought it was just such a crazy way to use trombones, to be as aggressive and raw as that. And the Tito Puente influence is heavy for anyone who came up with Latin music.”
Prime Flight is an engaging cha cha with winning solos from the composer on piano, Neville on vibes and Flores on conga. “This is one of the few tunes on the album that actually goes back to the harmonic progression after the solos,” he explained. “The others are more specific. They don’t go back to the head but rather move on to new sections.
YouTube Audio – Israel Tanenbaum & The LatinBaum Jazz Ensemble
Another Life, an introspective piano interlude that was improvised on the spot, harkens back to Tanenbaum’s beginnings with the instrument. “As a kid in Puerto Rico, I used to hang with a couple of guys from the music store that I worked in. One of them was the piano teacher in the store and the other was the piano tuner. The piano tuner had this beautiful Danemann piano in his apartment. We’d go to this guy’s house and play on that piano from eight or nine at night until the sun came up. And this was right at the time when Keith Jarrett had released his Köln concert album, where he plays everything improvised. And I fell in love with it. I thought it was such a great thing to be able to sit down and play without having a piece of paper, because I didn’t know how to read at the time. And so Keith Jarrett was my savior. Like, ‘Really? I can do this?’
“So we would take turns on that Danemann piano and every time it was my turn, I would just improvise. And some incredible ideas and things came from that early experience.” Regarding his improvised solo piano showcase here, Tanenbaum said, “It’s not virtuosic like a Gonzalo Rubalcaba or a Danilo Pérez. It’s not highly complex, it’s very simple. I didn’t sit down and write out a melody The fiery descarga Mambo Raro gives everybody in the group a solo taste (first Flores on alto sax, followed by Álvarez and Subero on trombones, Neville on vibes, then Tanenbaum on piano). Meanwhile, its infectious rhythmic undercurrent urges bodies to move. “I called it Mambo Raro because it’s a strange mambo due to the harmonic sequence. It’s familiar but at the same time it’s unusual the way I work whole steps apart on the harmony. And the melody is uncommon, rhythmically speaking. It’s just a slightly different kind of tune in general.”
Cuando Te Asomas is a mellower but no less persuasive mambo with a particularly challenging horn riff. The translation of the song title means “When You Peek In.” As the composer explained, “When I was working on this tune my wife kept on peeking in the door to see how I was doing. And as she peeked in I’d turn around and play this crazy riff while I was still recording the demo. When I went back and listened to it, I said, ‘Oh, I like this!’ So the riff stayed.” Native Californian Neville plays it strictly West Coast on his soothing vibes solo here while Tanenbaum offers an especially dynamic piano solo. Powell adds some blistering high-note trumpet fusillades to put an exclamation point on this jubilant dance number.
Prelude is inspired by Chopin’s Prelude in E minor Op.28 No.4, performed in a salsafied rendition. As Tanenbaum explained, the tune has deep roots for him. “My first piano teacher turned me on to Chopin and this was actually the first classical piece that I learned and fell in love with. The melody has lived in my head for decades now. I could never imagine myself actually playing the original piece as a concert pianist, so this is my way of doing it.” Benitez contributes a virtuosic electric bass solo on this impressionist take while vibraphonist Rafalides solos in cascading fashion over a churning montuno section midway through.
The romantic bolero Steamy Patricia, featuring a heartfelt piano solo, is dedicated to Tanenbaum’s wife. “She’s been my anchor, friend and angel for 35 years now,” he said. And the energized closer, Vaya, is a catchy danzón with potent solos offered by Benítez on upright bass, De Gracia on timbales and Lopez on flute. Cuban tenor saxophonist Lamoglia also turns in a positively Brecker-esque tenor solo on this vibrant finale, which was inspired by Roberto Roena’s Lamento de Concepción. “His song was just rolling in my head and kind of stuck with me for a couple of days right around the time that he passed,” Tanenbaum recalled. “So Vaya is very loosely inspired by his tune. It hinges off of the very first line where the melody is established, then it goes off in a completely different direction.”
– Bill Milkowski
Content source: Zoho Music
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